Lord Cameron of Dillington (Member of Parliament) gave a speech about world water in the light of climate change at the International Steering Group of the WAVE project in Somerset which was held on october 6 th.
You can read the speech below :
I have a difficult challenge today, which is to give a global picture on water in a mere 20 minutes. However because of my main interest in future world food supplies, I thought I would focus on agriculture and irrigation. Its demands represent 70% of human water consumption, and I believe that the principles needed for the proper management of water for agriculture, particularly in the light of climate change, can and should be applicable across the wider water management spectrum.
The first thing to realise is that irrigation usage varies across the world, and it is important to distinguish between its % of human consumption and its % of renewable resources – ie the long-term patterns of local rainfall. For instance in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) 86% of all water consumed goes to irrigation, but this only amounts to a puny 2% of renewable resources – one of the lowest figures in the world. In Southern Asia for instance agriculture takes 36% of renewable resources, rising to 53% in the Middle East. And the UN believe that it is when agriculture is using over 40% of renewable resources that hard choices have to be made between farmers and the urban populations – and obviously politically the latter will always win!
Meanwhile irrigated agriculture provides 40% of the world food from only 20% of the world’s agricultural land. So in terms of feeding the world it is very important. 90% of rice grown uses irrigation. By 2030 agriculture will need 45% more water and even by 2025 the UN reckons that 40% of the world population will live in water scarce regions – which will include all of China and India. Indian farmers are already taking 100 cubic km per annum more from their aquifers than are being replaced by rains. And the aquifer under the Hebei province of China, where most of their wheat is grown, is falling at the rate of 3m per annum.
So in terms of water usage, which includes holistic water management which I know you are here to discuss, it will be necessary for all of us to look at new approaches – and at the risk of lecturing to the experts here today, I thought I might mention a few:
1. Better drip irrigation. Israel is at the forefront here with pipes dripping into the roots rather than onto the surface. Of course it is very expensive and difficult to manage, and is really only appropriate to perennial crops.
2. Recycling Urban sewage. In Singapore, 30% of their drinking water comes from treated sewage. In India and SSA, where the quality of treated sewage is not often up to drinking standards, it can still be used for irrigation – and in SSA, because the supply is often more reliable than rainfall it is a valuable resource.
3. Better use of shallow aquifers. When it rains, or during floods, pump the surplus water down into the aquifer and store it there. There is less evaporation and less social and environmental disturbance than with reservoir storage. This already happens in many countries but it could be used much more widely as a water conservation measure.
4. Adaptation to climate change. Even here in Somerset, we farmers will need to adjust to changing rainfall patterns under climate change. We are likely to get wetter winters, drier summers, and more intense rainfall and stormy conditions. In particular we are likely to get wetter autumns when most crop work is done, leading inevitably to damaged soil structure. This is already becoming apparent on many farms. ......... There is likely to be a greater need for winter storage of water both to alleviate flooding and also to cope with reduced summer rainfall. Many farmers may need to consider irrigation, even of grassland, from winter storage. This winter storage could be anything from floodplain detention areas and creation of wetland habitats, to interception ponds on streams to catch floods and more likely specific farmer built reservoirs which you fill in the winter or during heavy rain and use for irrigation when it is dry. Farmers will also need to look at water conservation measures such as collecting clean water from roofs and yards and recycling dirty water. This afternoon on the field trip I believe you will see an example of recycling dirty water, part-funded by the WAVE project.
5. Returning to the world scene there is undoubtedly going to be more use of deep aquifers. This must only be a temporary expedient until we get more efficient solar powered desalination plants. But in some places it can be a valid alternative – for example there are 2 deep pre ice-age aquifers under Perth, Australia, which could each supply the current water needs of Western Australia for over 1000 years.
6. And finally there is better capture and storage.
There are huge opportunities for many many more community and farm based reservoir schemes throughout the developing world and in SSA in particular. There is no doubt in my mind that there is also room in certain areas for larger schemes. In the early 1990s The World bank moved away from infrastructure development because of, in their own words, “the pressure of environmental and social non-government organisations”. Hydro-electric and large scale irrigation schemes still went ahead in independent countries such as Brazil, Turkey and China. But dependent countries, ie most of SSA, found themselves controlled by this so-called “Washington water consensus.” The Prime Minister of Ethiopia has called these attempts to stop projects in poor countries not only irrational but bordering on the criminal. Certainly such dams have the potential to save thousands of lives – an argument used to defend the Bujagali dam in Uganda. I also heard last month about the apparent irony of 2 large coal fired power stations being built in Southern Africa as opposed to harnessing the regional potential for hydro-power because the latter was ruled out by “environmental” opposition.
I should make it clear that I do not know the ins and outs of these specific projects, but I do know we need a new politics of water. The Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom believed that managing a renewable natural resource like water, which cuts across political and social boundaries, needs a system of “polycentric governance”. She warns that attempting to ignore this complexity, or to impose recipes or blueprints, is likely to do damage – and this is particularly so with blueprints imposed by external bodies as opposed to national and local governments and their electorate. In Africa, resource protection will occur because people have met their basic needs, not because rich communities impose their own preferences. In Africa, water scarcity tends to be an economic phenomenon rather than a physical one. I say this because in many parts of “rained starved” Africa they actually get as much rain as we do here, but of course it all comes in one or two downpours - and most of it is never used because they don’t have the means to capture it and store it.
To add a certain urgency to my agenda, there is I am glad to say, a growing awareness amongst donor nations that water resource management is not simply about environmental goals or even local survival, but is an important dimension of global security.
Water can and probably will cause conflict. In Northern Kenya for instance, 200 people per annum currently die in skirmishes between tribes over water. The trouble is that waters and rivers do not recognize political boundaries. The 10 nations now using the waters of the Nile are a good example of where things could go wrong. Turkey’s dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, rivers which are the lifeblood of Iraq and Syria, are another. The excessive abstraction by both Israel and Jordan from the River Jordan could inflame an already sensitive situation.
Funnily enough, there has been a recent report indicating that although diplomacy is almost at a stand-off in the Middle East on most subjects, the various nations continue to talk about water between themselves - because they know that that is a subject too important for normal politics. An interesting side issue here is that historians now believe that the rise of the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Babylon and Mesopotamia only occurred when the local tribes got together to properly manage their water resources. So you too, by being here today, could become the fathers of a great new civilisation!!
But joking aside, there is a UN Convention on Non Navigational Uses of International Watercourses which sets out how nations should resolve their differences over shared waterways – of which there are some 250-300 lakes and rivers throughout the world. The convention needs 35 nations to accede to it before it comes into operation, and it currently has about 25 – so anything we can do to encourage further signatories, the less danger there will be from wars breaking out over water. It is only in this way that the management of transboundary freshwater will be equitably shared between the conflicting needs of the poor, the rich, the farmers, the towns and the environment in both upstream and downstream countries.
Already, where rivers are used by only one nation we can see the effects of overuse. The great Yellow River of China only reaches the sea for a few months now. The Australians are almost determined that the Murray/Darling should not waste a drop of freshwater in the sea. The Colorado runs almost dry at its mouth for several months of the year. Meanwhile on the Indus, although as we know it is prone to flooding, there is normally so much agricultural abstraction from it that its very fertile and important delta is in danger of saline incursions from the sea. If such irresponsible behaviour were to occur where the river in question flowed from one country to the next, there could be serious political consequences. It is lucky that the almost total disappearance of the Aral Sea, once the 4th largest sea in the world, is the result of excessive irrigation of cotton by both of its riparian owners, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
But if I have given you a brief rundown on the problems, what can donor countries like ourselves do to prevent the current situation where somewhere in the world one child dies of lack of water or poor sanitation every 20 seconds. Again I thought I would focus on where the potential for improvement is greatest, in SSA. Here, as I have said, the problem is often based more on economics and lack of knowledge than actual physical scarcity. The greatest poverty in Africa is a poverty of information.
There is much work to be done to encourage cheap farm based and community based capture and storage of water for both agricultural and domestic use. Subsistence farmers need the knowledge to manage their soils to make them receptive to rain; they need the knowledge and funding to have drip irrigation which does not waste the water; they need the funding for small, shared abstractions from aquifers. We in the EU can help with that seed-corn funding and the dissemination of knowledge.
Groundwater provides reliable water to more than 100 million people in Africa and is the resource of choice for developing rural water supplies. These underground resources need to be defined by their location, quality, quantity and recharge rate, so they can be managed sustainably for future generations. This important mapping of African aquifers is constrained by a shortage of local hydro-geologists and, bearing in mind the wealth of hydrological experience in the EU, I believe this is an area where we can greatly help. The next stage will be to apply the EU experience in registration and control of abstraction licences to avoid the problems currently being encountered in the overused aquifers of India and China.
Weather forecasting is another area where we can help. It is taken for granted in most developed countries, but is crucially important to African farmers. If a poor smallholder farmer buys modern seeds to produce 3 or 4 times the yield of her normal seeds, she is often risking all the family wealth to do so. Indeed her family’s ability to survive could also be on the line. This is because if she plants and there is no rain to take the seeds much beyond germination, she will get no crop and will be unable to feed her family. This terrifying risk, which can only get worse with climate change, is not helped by the fact that farmers very rarely get good seasonal forecasts, or even 10 day or 3 day forecasts, to allow them to make informed decisions about their farming practices. Africa has only one eighth of the recommended number of climate stations per thousand square kilometres and very often there is no link between them and the farmers or even the extension services. The information simply does not reach the farmers. I believe the EU should help link African farmers and extension officers into existing meteorological systems to provide farmers with accurate real time information. Furthermore, by contributing to the development of a better observation network of climate stations, the EU could also help build capacity in Africa to collect data sets to help inform future policy at a national, regional and international level.
These are just a few ideas on how we can help Africa to develop its own capacity to manage its water sustainably without imposing our own post industrial viewpoint too strongly.
I think, Ladies and Gentlemen, that my time is up. I haven’t even touched on the problem of virtual water, but I hope I have given you a glimpse of some of the major watery issues facing world agriculture over the next 30 to 40 years.